Monday, February 23, 2009

A survey experience

As most of you know from my last post, we have just embarked on a major survey project here in Niger. This past week we went to a village called Teppe, which is a Fulani village. Now this week that survey team is in another Fulani village called Kojeri and I personally am in Niamey doing 30 or so surveys of all our urban employees and their families,the majority of whom are tamashek and thus in my language group.

But to give you a feel for what it is like, here is what it was like to do one of those surveys last week!


We walked across a field covered in dried, sharp, short millet stalks and an assortment of dried animal dung to the collection of huts where the village chief and his family lived. The stalks are reminders of the main staple crop of the people, and now all they are is a hazard to my ankles. We arrived, were introduced, and they promptly swept a little spot under one of the grass thatch roof thingies for us. Check out the photo. I don't really know the name for them, but they are poles supporting a grass, poles and woven mat roof, with no side walls. Just keeps the sun off.


And then they brought out the dreaded white man's chair. See it there? Most people always sit on the mats right on the floor. But they see me and instantly whip out whatever chair-like structure they can find, usually either a branch or fabric chair. I don't actually want to sit in it. Especially not since it is the ONLY chair, and I feel like a Chief with her subjects sitting on the ground before her. YECH! I want to sit on the ground with the rest of them, but I am told quite bluntly by our interpreter that it is the honor they have given me and to sit my butt down. I sit. My pride a bit hurt for some reason that I am forced to have a place of honor when I want to be accepted as one of them and to be at their level. Something I know I have to get used to.

We sit down and the surveyors start the work of introducing our team, our work, and our purpose. Then the actual survey begins. It is all in fulfulde (of which I only speak about 5 words) so it is no surprise that I am taking in more of the sights and sounds around me that listening intently to each question. ( I promise I do listen intently when they are in my language - Tamasheq!)  The cacophony of sounds of goats bleating, chickens and other fowl squawking and children is so loud that sometimes I can barely hear the survey questions. The chickens, probably 50 or so in all sizes and colors, are running all over the place.

The women gather. Not close enough to actually be taking part (we did the actual interview with the chiefs wife since He was gone) but close enough to hear everything that was going on. They have ground millet all morning and now sit with two bowls and a woven little round circle that they use to separate the chaff out of the grain. The array of fabrics that they are wearing is both breathtaking and gaudy. I see orange, red, green, yellow, dark blue, turquoise, black and white, repeated in different patterns and shades on all their outfits. They are almost all wearing headwraps of matching (or sometimes clashing) fabric. There is no such thing as "in fashion" here. Their hair sticks out under the headwraps and you see thick braids down the back and smaller braids coming from above their ears, then wrapping in a loop in front of their ears and attaching to the main braid at the back of their heads.

A few of the younger men hear that something is going on and slowly they start to arrive as well. It is more appropriate for them to get involved and they sit close. Two have frayed, cotton leisure suits on. It reminds me of an suit that someone wore back in North America for a summer party or wedding, and promptly got sold to a second hand store. Eventually those things all end up somewhere like this, worn in the bush in the middle of Africa. (Those of you in Western Canada- I kid you not I have seen some used clothing for sale in the market here in Niamey that still has the Value Village tag attached!!) A couple other men have more African clothing of bright fabric pants with a long tunic style top. But the majority have faded cotton dress pants with any type of shirt- from T-shirt to polo shirts to button up dress shirts, all faded from heavy use and hours under the unrelenting sun.

There is a big rooster less than a foot away from me. A baby sheep is just a few feet beyond him, laying in the sand and chewing something. A small child, around 4 I would guess, takes a baby from an old withered grandmother and carries him around on her back. Yes, even the small children carry even smaller children on their backs here. One of the young girls (maybe 17?) sits about 30 feet away. She is beautiful. She keeps stealing glances and looking over at me, but when I look her way she quickly hides her face or looks away. I think she is shy. (see her below in color -hiding her face again!)


A couple of other small children run around naked, with round distended bellies, not unlike those you see in the World Vision commercials. One rolls an old bike tire, using a stick to help it gain momentum.

I turn my attention back to the survey and all is still going fine. Something keeps bumping my seat. Yes, from under my seat. What is going on? I try to be polite and not gawk around or go on my knees to look under my seat, thus drawing attention to myself. Finally I pull out my camera with the swivel screen, aim it under my chair as nonchalantly as possible, and this is what I see.....


The sweetest little baby goat has curled up under my chair. Occasionally he bumps my chair bottom with his head as he moves around, and sometimes he nuzzles the back of my calf or licks my ankles. (You can just barely see my ankle of the far right of the photo)

I go back to my people watching. This chief has 3 wives. Even the way they sit for the interview is interesting. The first and main wife was the main interviewee. She sat 2 feet away on a little wooden block that raised her off the mat a few inches. The second wife sat on her heels against a pole about 10 feet away. Even when the health questions about her children came up, she never came any closer. The third wife was even further back, also sitting against a pole. According to the survey, the wives were between 43 and 50. Not too bad considering an old man will often take a very young teenage wife.

The first wife


Since I don't speak fulfulde I watch these women and I think of them and their lives. I pray silently for them - for their health, for their crops, for their children, and most of all , that they would know HOPE. That their days to come would be better than the ones from when they were young and that even in the midst of their poverty that they would know joy and have hope.

A goat puts his face into a bowl of millet grain and gets a swift smack in the side from one of the young women. Another goat across the compound is trying to knock down a large pot that is hanging 5 feet off the ground on a hook. There is some WWF style goat wrestling going on with some others. Fiesty critters! We reach the mortality section of the survey. We learn that one of the young girls in the extended family had twins a few months ago. One died at one month or age, and the second died at three months of age. I wish I could express myself in fulfulde to offer my condolences. I reach under my chair and pet the baby goat. Two hours in and he is still sitting under my chair. Two hours in and I am now thankful for the chair since I don't think my hips or my joints could handle two hours sitting on the hard ground.  I see the persistence of one goat finally pays off, and he has his head firmly inside the pot, still hanging 5 feet off the ground.


Someone answers their ringing cellphone. (Everyone has a cellphone- but getting a signal out there is a whole other thing!) I don't know what he is saying, but i clearly hear the word "Anasara" (white person) so I know I came up in conversation. The goat beneath me bleats suddenly and licks my ankle again.

The chief comes home in a flowing white robe and old, falling apart white sneakers. To my delight, they pull out another "chair of honor" and he sits down a few feet away to listen to the rest of the survey. Yay - I am not the only one in a chair now. However, mine is still the only chair with a goat underneath it.

Eventually our survey comes to an end. It only took 3 hours to sit there, but we did 3 households and covered 20 or so people.

I am so proud of my survey team. I took to calling them the "dream team". Most of them had never even heard of a survey a few weeks ago, and with a lot of training and practice, here they are spending 2 weeks doing surveys of their own people and a neighboring village. Way to go team!  And off to the next hut!!


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The survey process begins!


Life has begun to get a whole lot busier here in Niger lately. For the past 3-4 months I have been working to build a baseline survey that our team can use with both people groups we work with. Kristi and I spent a bunch of time translating it into Fulfulde and Tamasheq then. Great for language study!

What's a baseline survey you ask? Well it is a survey we ask a large sample of people so we can find out their base level of development. We are asking questions about their overall health, deaths (causes), births (locations),  vaccination use, breastfeeding practices, sanitation facilities, distance to water, perception of the quality of the water they use, household goods they own, nutrition, education and a bunch of other things as well. There are 32 questions on the survey. With this information, we will be better equipped to see the problems and strengths of each area. It will help us to identify issues to target, health practices and overall areas that we can address through teaching, partnering with them, and sometimes to start our own projects where needed.

So what have I been up to? Well last week a great lady named Emily arrived on the scene to work with me for almost 6 weeks. She has a similar development degree as me, and this summer she was in Niger working with Samaritan's purse on a project. We really hit it off, and things ended up with the invite to return now to work with us for a short period! So Emily arrived and we spent the first week putting the survey into the final format, designing all the training for local surveyors we are working with, and getting all the kinks ironed out. Let me tell you, we had a lot of late nights trying to get it all finished! But so great to work across from her, tossing ideas back and forth and enjoying each other's company!


The scene of the crime. (my office is a little messy!)



Proof positive that a Mac and a PC can work together in perfect harmony!



Now this past Thursday and Friday we had a group of villagers come up from one of the Fulani villages we work with called Teppe. We are training them to administer the survey in their own village (approx 1000 people) and another neighboring village. We have worked with this group before as they are part of a development community that was formed at the village level that we partner with for training every week and projects. So not only is this continued training for them, but they are also passing on the blessing by being part of the team to help work in a neighboring village. They are not paid for their work, it is all part of the development process and we are proud of their excitement and dedication! The hard part of the last few days was the teaching itself. The women who came are illiterate (they will participate to listen to answers and help make things flow and make them culturally correct when just a woman is answering questions )and two of the three village men are very painfully slow readers. We did hire two additional people who are strong French/English/Fulfulde speakers who are helping facilitate and train and it has been a tremendous help. Each day it took us much longer to make it through the intended material than we had hoped.

Emily hard at work teaching a section


Yesterday we did some practice interviews in town with some locals who volunteered and we were proud to see how much progress they had made! The first few days in the village they will be working alongside one of our strong translators and sometimes with our teammate Kristi,  and after that we anticipate they will be strong enough to do it on their own!  We gave them homework to continue reading over the survey out loud 5 times a day this weekend and Monday we head to the village even earlier than planned to have a little more training time on site!

More of our wonderful trainees!



Monday to Thursday we are in the village of Teppe doing the surveys. We will get as many done as possible, but secretly (not much of a secret if I write it on the blog is it!) I am hoping for at least 60 individual families (representing roughly 360 people). Then we are back in town for a few days before heading back that direction for another 4 days of surveys with the Fulani people. After that-its the Tamasheq people's turn! (more on that later!). After all the initial surveys are done, we hope to have information from close to 1500 respondents!

Thank you for all your support. Thank you to Paul who is carrying the load at home, even helping with meals for the survey team, to free me up to throw my energy into the survey project. It was my brainchild to do this project and I am so excited how the team is working on it, and by the great information this will give us to help us focus our future works, and to give the results back to the people to help them analyze and prioritize their own goals!

This picture made me think of my sister in law who loves necklaces. Michelle - you think YOU like bling :) Check all this out! The ladies were beautiful and head to toe in bling!

survey3 survey2


I am sure I will have new stories and pictures when we get back from the village - so wish me luck, pray for our health and also for the success of our little (not so little!) project!!


See you next week!